Photos are data too


/ December 4, 2014

If you take a photo of someone for a project, have you explained how the image will be used in future? How will you ensure that everyone within your organisation uses that photo in the right way?

Reboot, a social impact firm working on accountable governance and inclusive development, has designed a system of ensuring that individuals are informed about how their images might be used, and asked for their permission to use their image in these ways. Permissions or denials are then recorded and tagged in the photo’s metadata.

They also distinguish between different ways of using photos for external purposes:

‘Beyond seeking informed consent, we also defined the ways we should and shouldn’t use certain types of images, especially with regards to the appropriateness of using images of people.’

  • Where a photo of a person is used to draw a direct connection to an individual, place, or context, using that image makes perfect sense.
  • Where a photo of a person is used only to draw a connection to ‘corporate’ Reboot, this doesn’t fit well with our values. We need to be aware of the fact that we are essentially facilitating an introduction to these people through their imagery, and therefore must be more intentional about how we tell their story when we do use images of people in our corporate communications.
  • In cases where the format doesn’t allow for us to add more information, such as a business card or other small canvas items, we shift to images of people where the individuals are more anonymous. In this way, we avoid establishing a false sense of empathy, where the viewer feels a strong connection to the person, but can’t learn more about them to truly understand their context.

They also recommend Regarding Humanity, a space for practitioners to ‘foster  dialogue on respectful, relevant and resonant storytelling’.

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About the contributor

Tom started out writing and editing for newspapers, consultancies and think tanks on topics including politics and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, then moved into designing and managing election-related projects in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Bolivia. After getting interested in what data and technology could add in those areas and elsewhere, he made a beeline for The Engine Room. Tom is trying to read all of the Internet, but mostly spends his time picking out useful resources and trends for organisations using technology in their work.

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